The Edith Sitwell Series
by Olivia Diamond
EDITH SITWELL MEETS MARILYN MONROE
Hello, Hollywood beauty bound to pain
your petals of yellow I understand
as only a long-legged sharp-beaked crane
can who holds your green-stemmed hand.
You're a daffodil-girl men deflower
who ignore the attar of your bloom.
In sexy posies for their calendar
they press your gorgeous greenness into gloom.
I've known men to use women from the start,
to sap them dry then discard the vessel.
I'm tall and turbaned to play a part
fit to skirt this day for the medieval.
In that age as in our rusted metal time
our choice was to be a pretty plaything
or wear the virgin crown and veil sublime
in a game to wrap our soul in swaddling.
A daffodil bent in a lashing tempest,
you talk in feathered tendrils of thought
about Rudolph Steiner's truth compressed
as dewdrops on stalks perceived and caught.
The Press for sport and profit set the stage
on which intellect was to meet symbol
but I surprised the dull who couldn't gauge
the measure of flesh's breathless gambol.
An old Dame of England knows the bombshell
under the creamy texture of seductive skin
is rooted like the bulb of a daffodil
that grows so green and blond for gentlemen.
The cameras catch only the surface
but I am a poet whose roving eye
births the babe beneath the painted face
and swaddle your masque's sweet lullaby.
I take you seriously to my heart
as a mother, Marilyn, too wise to lie,
as a big bird whose learned her part
to nest without a mate or chick but still fly.
Just plain Jane, an ugly British crane,
I've felt the pain tall as a crane.
It's the same pain tall as a crane
I see stalk your art tall as a crane.
MARILYN MONROE MEETS EDITH SITWELL
I know beauty is only skin deep
in the eye of the beholder, is it not?
Why can't anyone else see that
when they parrot phrases for their pleasure?
I found one man who could -
too bad he's dead and buried.
Could I bear his greatness in the flesh?
He wouldn't gawk at me, would he?
He'd want to find my mind, he would -
the beauty poets say never fades.
Read Steiner, have you? You see my drift.
Tell me true, is it worse trapped
in my body or to be six-feet tall
you can't then bow or be bent
by any man - like you - Edith,
you know all jeweled and gowned
to complement your height does accent
the divine regardless of costume worn.
But everyone who sees me sees body.
I'm nobody, the body material, no more.
Why, I'm a dame too, with no capital.
The only capital I wear is marqueed.
Why, Dame Edith, can't anybody see
the real me with a mind all mine?
I am an actress; I am an artist.
I am a thinker who thinks I am
but see instead my shell crisscross
screens in a trick of dance and death.
The bomb I am explodes in bikinis.
Edith, did you dance the body etheric?
Do it barefoot on sandy beaches?
I'm Beauty who senses a Beast
sleeps in me and to awake alive
beyond my mirror image I married
a sports idol then an intellectual
who then might tell me I really am.
Steiner makes sensual sense to me.
I wish to inspire air timelessly,
to awaken imagination more than
the lust men only perceive in us.
Teach me to do it in this life,
beautifully plumed white crane.
THE POET INVOKES EDITH SITWELL
Amethysts on breast and fingers,
willow-wand in delicate hand,
Edith high virgin breathes spells
honey-worded over my bassinet.
She hovers near unseen, unbidden
wind-borne merry English damsel.
Lanky, wise, wan queen of bees,
she fairies forth glad mysteries
druids blew once in infant ears
long ago in Celtic glens and groves.
Empress of cast-off daughters,
from vines she strips meanings,
trims September's mystic limbs,
Virgo-born hag, maid and babe,
willowy crane, weaver of dreams,
creatrix of ceremonies divines,
pitch me at birth into your circle,
chant the ancient royal riddles,
spin me home to your honeycomb.
EDITH SITWELL INVOKES THE POET
Child, I'm glad to see you write.
There is no nobler profession
be it wife, mother or lover.
You draw honey from the air,
distill sun for golden grain,
the food that sates the soul.
I see your wallpaper peels,
your doorknob hangs loose.
Those smears don't distract;
they're marks of intelligence,
a dainty disregard for matter.
Don't wipe that spill, dear.
The leg of this chair wobbles.
Never fear, I know a trick.
Fetch me a can of pears.
There . . . steady as she goes.
I rather admire those rings
the coffee table displays.
Myself thought coasters a nuisance.
Your style is out of fashion?
Disregard the day, wear raiment
to grace your meaning of being.
You're old of soul, you were at birth.
I pass my scepter unto you.
Wave it in the face of the bland.
I gave the critics tit for tat,
fought them with snarls and snipes.
Stuff and nonsense their decrees.
Weave past, present and future
into time's seamless tapestry.
Be a strange bird in a tame pond.
I see nothing's new in your house,
old furniture, old carpet, old lamps;
but it makes the present luxurious
as burgundy in old decanters.
Let music furnish the fanfare;
life and art require ceremony.
I say art deifies reality.
I have no gods before poems,
the voice of the sibyl to me.
you have that conch shell madness.
You hear the mermen singing;
you let a beldame in your room.
EDITH SPEAKS TO PAVEL TCHELITCHEW
Pavel, you painted me an erstwhile
pale-faced nun in extenuated pose,
prayerful, sad-eyed, in grim profile
washed in bird's-egg blue, bent nose,
visual oddity, artist's practice piece
done and undone to purity instinct
like Picasso's cubes I'm perpetually
your virgin, ever medieval icon.
When you dipped and daubed brush
did you care you spattered spirit
of mine caught on canvas you disowned?
You dispensed with Edith the woman
but used the muse of Edith as your own.
I propped up your fragile talent,
hawked your wares to London galleries
yet later my successes in America
brought little cheer to your lips.
Degrees, honors, titles bestowed
brought silence after all those years
from the man I gave my youth and love.
From this, know I was like all women
who give support and patronage freely,
who spend the best years of life loving
men whose remittance to them is meager.
Those decades I tendered you and your art
I wrote little enough to make my name.
Only after we parted, you to New York;
I back to Ossie at Renishaw Manor
did I write what would make me Dame.
ELIZABETH I INVOKES EDITH SITWELL
Mark my slender hands and white complexion
my retainers and Lord Dudley found fair.
I haste to my couch my reign concluded.
Merry, what may your queen do but let fall
the sceptre to Mary's Scottish scion?
I was one for fine speech and pageantry,
summer progresses through Warwickshire
when applause and blessings of the masses
swayed me not from my vow not to marry;
I durst not share my throne with any man.
Nor was there a prince as stalwart as I,
an admiral, yes, but nary a man my equal.
Were Dudley a prince no difference make;
to swear my troth to him I still could not,
given I was in marriage to my kingdom.
Those who say I dallied with Dudley err.
Surrender to husband was not my destiny;
I knew the cost of such a surrender.
My mother paid the brideprice with her head.
Thank you - I'll keep my head and my throne.
Slender daughter of a royal line you be,
born under the sign of Virgo ascendant,
we be the seventh virgin oil in our lamps
who await our lordship, the art of statecraft,
and your grace, the wit and fancy of poesy.
Our loves desert for other devotions,
lay waste their power in a stew of lust
but we draw to us the power of the sun.
Our wombs engorged with creative urge,
we shape empires in circles of light.
Forget your wretched Pavel, poor fag,
whose power's spent in stagnant pools.
Far out at sea eyes watch the fires,
the northern lights guide ghosts homeward,
intact vestal virgins harbor the flame.
EDITH SITWELL INVOKES ELIZABETH I
I grow too tall for London Tower
emboldened with Plantagenet blood.
I drank the pain of father's disdain,
bless me, Bess, I'm you returned to brood.
Farthingaled Queen Bee of our island,
you were Gloriana who shone on heroes,
buckaneers, mummers and caballeros,
your red hair blazing for all England.
I pledge my troth to ape your style
which sent captains sailing wind-worn,
bards in museful ease pleasing the court,
buskins in abundance treading the boards.
I reign in a fourth-floor London flat.
Observe, my chamber door has no knob
yet tea whistles a tune on the hob
for courtiers who would come to chat.
See, Shakespeare still sails the Thames.
My pedigreed veins throb with blank verse.
I'm heavy with Henry's conjugal curse.
We two can trust the love of no man.
Chill air of nights in castle-keeps haunt
our days decked in capes and brocade gowns.
Your gentleman said right, life's a stage
that we must strut upon and play a part.
Come, strike the harp, we'll make merry
until we be dead but not buried, be hags,
bald, in wigs, be dead but not buried,
then give up the ghost but wearily.
THE GHOST OF MONTEFUGONI
The ghost did the deed I wanted to do.
Oh, how I dreamt of choking him to death,
squeezing every last bit of bad breath
from his measly pink conniving body.
I'd hated him so long and acridly
that if he approached my stomach heaved;
my dearest wish was for his head to roll
more cleanly from neck than Bloody Mary's.
But for my Catholic faith I'd murder
given time, opportunity and the knife;
I'd imagined the act often enough.
Montegufoni's ghost spared the expense.
Now David Horner sits in his corner,
my brother Ossie's crippled paramour,
who didn't blink to let my Ossie sit
pent in a wheelchair night after night
while he gadded about with younger men.
My poor Ossie, old, shaky in the bones,
remember the fops and pageantry of youth
when you conjured a fairy-filled forest,
I the huntress; you the court magician,
Merlin of our court, and little Sachie,
our fealty parodied by the coward Noel;
Sachie the only one of us married -
a lovely sister - but notwithstanding,
he traitor to our talented triad
with me ever queen of the pyramid.
I know no lover as gallant as brother,
as swift of tongue to defend our fame
with sword raised to duel the poetaster,
the carping critic, the stage's small talent.
This northern seat did not suit our father;
he must buy a castle in Tuscany
where his medieval mind rested content.
The mandolins and rebecs resounded
around the parapets of Montefugoni,
its stony stairways, musty recesses
we Sitwells sensed boarded another guest
whose soundless footsteps familiar grew.
There we retreated to warm our winters.
I heard his laugh echo from the landing.
I'd been writing late, arose for a drink
which might empty my mind of fancied sound,
when I tumbled down the flight of stone stairs.
Thrashed back and bones beaten beyond breakage,
I lay a battered baggage at the bottom,
until I gathered all powers to crawl up
on hands and knees each hard cold step
the flight back to my chamber door.
Then I heard again the husky laughter.
Although brief it drove me to my bed.
After the fall I could abide the spectral signor
but not the darkness of castle nights.
I awoke one night to let starlight in.
I groped for the casement in the dark
but found a flimsy chair in which to fall.
It broke, I fell, saw the sash fly open.
There I lay on stones bathed in whiteness
until I heard the maid calling at dawn.
My hate was not great enough to kill him,
for David survived his turn at the tumble.
He said he felt a push. I was at Greenhill;
he couldn't accuse me though I'll confess
I'd pay the ghost to finish what was begun.
I increased my bedtime wine and water
just a tad winter nights in Tuscany.
We all grow cold and shaky in the bones,
feel chill the more in southern manors,
hear the wind roar up drafty castle-keeps,
wonder when we'll meet our ancient lineage.
I know full well I'll be first to leave,
go greet Plantagenets beyond the grave.